A Complete Guide on Project Documentation

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Last updated on
18th Oct, 2021
Published
18th Oct, 2021
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A Complete Guide on Project Documentation

There are many project managers who feel that documentation is an arduous task. It takes up considerable time and effort—and they might feel that there are many other pressing tasks that require more immediate focus, and documentation can easily be relegated to the back burner!

However, nothing can be further from the truth. Proper documentation ensures that project expectations are met, deliverables are on track, and tasks can be easily traced. In fact, the value of project documentation is felt most when there is a lack of it, as more often than not the project goes astray when documentation processes are not given the attention they deserve.

In this blog, you’ll find out why project documentation is important, what are the benefits, and how to get it right.

What Is Project Documentation?

Project documentation involves recording all the key details at every important stage of the project, and creating the documents that are required to execute, monitor and control it successfully.

Project documentation can range from business proposal documents, business cases, time charts, project implementation plans, status reports and financial trackers, among many others.

Examples of Project Documents

Every organization will have its own ways of working and set of documentation templates that are followed, which have worked for them in the past. Small companies might be able to manage their initiatives with minimal paperwork, but larger projects that span teams and geographies might require complex documentation to stay on track.

Some of the most basic types of documents that every project should maintain, are the following:

1. Project Proposal

A project proposal is often the first document that is created for a project. It is a document that makes the case for going ahead with the project and outlines all the reasons why the project is worth pursuing. The core value proposition is laid out in the form of a business case which can be part of the project proposal.

Project Proposal

2. Project Plan

A project proposal offers a high-level overview of the project, which is then fleshed out in the form of a Project Plan. This lays out the roadmap and defines project milestones and timeframes. Usually, the Project Plan is a live document that evolves over the course of the project, with all the new goals and changes added to it along the way.

3. Status Report

It’s important that everyone who is working on the project must be updated on the progress. This is done through a shared Status Report and helps to keep the team and external stakeholders in the know as to what is happening. The work done so far is captured, and a note is made of the next steps ahead.

4. Communication Plan

Smooth and transparent communication is of paramount importance to keep everyone on the same page. A well-laid out communication plan makes sure that all important information is shared and is always available for reference.

5. Project Retrospective

At the end of the project, the team sits together to determine what went well and what could, perhaps, have been done a bit better. The Retrospective document lists out all the lessons learned and can be used by other teams, so that they can learn from your mistakes.

The Value of Project Documentation

Project Documentation Lifecycle

Project documentation offers immense value across all the different stages of a project. Right from the initiation phase, through the execution phase and the completion phase, various kinds of documents can be created to plan, manage quality, budgets and time schedules and control scope, risk and so on.

Most of us find that writing something down helps to pin our thoughts and ideas, and this is the primary reason behind creating a tangible document. A project document is no different. Some of the ways in which it adds value to the project are:

  • It helps to clarify requirements, objectives and goals
  • It lists out all tasks and helps to break them down into smaller chunks that are manageable
  • A document helps to plan and allocate the right resources to the right task
  • It creates clarity on progress of work done so far, and on how much is left to be done
  • It creates transparency and gets everyone on the same page
  • It facilitates and smoothens lines of communication between teams and within the team
  • Project governance mandates are more easily managed
  • It is easy to monitor, control and track the project
  • Budgets, schedules and timelines can be managed
  • Changes can be traced and managed easily
  • New team members can come onboard easily and get up-to-speed with the work that has been done so far
  • Risks can be identified, evaluated and mitigated on time
  • Knowledge can be shared and lessons learned from one project can be transferred to the next.

Project Documentation Templates

Working on templates is the easiest way to get started with your documentation. PMI offers thousands of free templates, as well as premium templates that are available to PMI members only, at this link. These templates are tested by expert project management practitioners and will save you considerable time and effort.

Project Documentation Process

Before you start on developing the documentation for the project, first understand from stakeholders what is the purpose behind the project. Is it to develop a new product or service, or to enhance something that already exists? What type of compliances must be in place, and are there any existing templates you can follow?

Some questions to help you get started:

  • What are the goals and objectives?
  • Has a similar project been completed recently? If so, are the documents available to use as reference?
  • Does your organization follow standard methods of project documentation?
  • What are the technology and tools in use across teams?
  • What is the budget, timeline and what resources are available?
  • How will you communicate across teams?

Once you have a basic idea about the project, make a list of the documents that you must create. If there are existing templates that your organization uses, get access to them. If not, do some research and find out which are the most useful online templates and trackers that you can use. Try a free subscription, and if you find it meets your needs then ask for a paid subscription to the tool. It will save you time and effort in the long run, so the price of the subscription will be repaid many times over,through the course of the project.

Here are some documentation tips to ensure that you get it right:

  • Be well-organized

Set the right processes in place from the get-go, and do not leave all the documentation for a particular day of the week. You might tend to forget to note down something of key importance. Communication often happens across multiple mediums, like chat, emails, even WhatsApp or shared online folders. From the start, insist that all important details are shared in one place, so that it becomes easy to cull the most important points and note them down in a relevant document or tracker.

  • Make sure the search feature is in place

Whatever may be the document tool you use, it should allow for easy searching, both by name and date. The user interface should be very easy to use, even by a newbie, and should be simple to navigate.

  • Do not get into too much detail

Every document does not need to get into the details. Keep it crisp and concise, without leaving out anything of critical importance. Just-in-time documentation is often followed in Agile, where a document contains only enough detail to get the task off the ground.

  • Share and collaborate

Documents are of little use unless they are shared. Maintain your documents in a live, evolving format where all changes are documented, and real-time progress is easily tracked.

Tools to Use for Project Documentation

There are many online tools and trackers that are proven to add immense value to project documentation. Google Docs, Microsoft SharePoint, Asana, Proofhub, Trello and Nuclino are some commonly used tools that streamline and simplify project documentation processes. Depending on how mature your project team is, you can pick a tool that offers the most appropriate solutions to share knowledge and track progress.

Pick the right tool based on these parameters:

  • It should be intuitive, and easy for all project stakeholders to use without having to get specific training.
  • It should be easy to search and navigate.
  • It should have the ability to be used by multiple users at the same time, without any loss of information.
  • It should have multiple logins if required and should have the capability of being locked so that data does not get deleted in error.
  • It should be easily integrated with other software.

Concluding Thoughts

While documentation might seem very tedious, improper or inadequate documentation in a project could be one of the foremost reasons for project delays. In extreme cases it could even be a contributor to the failure of the project. As a good project manager, you can increase the efficiency of your project and improve chances of project success by maintaining the right amount of clear, well-articulated documentation at the most important stages through the lifecycle of the project.

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